"We're on the second floor," his mother said, as if that could deter a creature in possession of superhuman strength and a murderer's damaged brain. "If you paid careful attention," his father said, "you would see he's portrayed as an innocent, sensitive creature, twisted by his experiences in the world, a victim of other people's irrational fears." His father was a good judge of inner character, but Matthew was seven years old, and more impressed by appearances, so he hid his face under stifling covers, barely able to breathe.
One late August night, as he lay in bed pondering how much credence he might lend to his parents' arguments, he felt a cold hand grab his ankle. He woke with a start. Only after a moment did it come to him that he'd gone to sleep and had, while unconscious, pulled the sheet off the end of the bed. The night air had turned cool, and a breeze now chilled the exposed part of his legs.
"It's all a dream," Matthew thought as he got up and padded across the room to close the window. The moon had just risen over the roof of the church that faced his house on the other side of the street. He stood in its reflected light, trying to interpret, with the limited tools of awareness available to a small boy, the words he had just silently uttered. He felt liberated from his anxieties about fictional monsters, no matter how vividly depicted, while at the same time he got his first inkling of an idea infinitely more troubling. What was a dream, anyway, if the worlds of waking and sleeping could invade each other so readily as to be intertwined or even indistinguishable?
Under the stiffly swaying elm trees that sheltered his street, moon-cast shadows kept rearranging themselves into unknowable forms. He heard some animal howling in a distant yard, but it didn't sound like a dog. The floor beneath his feet suddenly felt as though it might fall away. Matthew wondered if he could still be asleep, and looked back at the bed, half expecting to see himself lying in it. If he needed to wake up all over again, he hoped it would be soon. Morning was a long way off.